Song, by Toad

Archive for March, 2012

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Friday Marvels at Google’s Ineptitude

 Considering how incredibly brilliant they are at so many things (like becoming epoch-definingly rich, for example) Google is remarkably awful at email spam.  Awful to the point that their spam folder is an active nuisance, and the messages they divert into the damn thing seem to be entirely random.

Senders I have marked as spam don’t always go in there, personal emails – even those sent to one recipient only – occasionally do end up in there, and the rest of them seem to be just a random selection of stuff people send me, with no rhyme or reason to the choices whatsoever.  They would honestly be more helpful if they just let every damn thing into my inbox and let me sort it out myself.

Anyhewww… if it stays this nice for the rest of the day I may open a beer in the back garden and spark up the barbecue for the first time this year.  Mrs. Toad will be out on the piss with her colleagues, so it will be peaceful enough – well, at least until I get a bit too pished that is. And then I think I’ll head up to Neu Reekie at the Scottish Book Trust.

So there, that’s my day planned out, now to find a nice way to waste time until say, oooh, 4pm when I can reasonably commence weekend funtimes. Those who can’t join me in the back garden this afternoon can certainly join me in frittering away the time until then by de-lurking, answering the five silly questions below, and then generally wasting time on the internet until the working week is well and truly over.

1. The oddest things you’ve received spam email about.
2. An old fashioned preserved foodstuff which seems as anachronistic as spam,
3. What does a sunny day most make you feel like doing?
4. Some sunny day music.
5. It’s time for an ice-cream – what would you choose?

Beck – Deadweight

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REM – Leave

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Elvis Presley – Always on My Mind

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Alabama 3 – Peace in the Valley

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Squirrel Nut Zippers – Put a Lid on It

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I Bloody Love London

As you might know, I have spent the last three days or so down in London, partly to see Meursault play at the Old Blue Last on Tuesday, partly to meet some music industry people for various reasons and partly to catch up with a couple of old friends.

I used to live down there, as you probably also know, but only for about three or four years, and I moved up to Scotland about seven years ago now.  Nevertheless it’s amazing how much affection I still retain for London, and it was really nice to be back, even if just for a little while.

There’s an odd sort of anti-London sentiment in a lot of people in Edinburgh, particularly amongst white collar workers, which I always found a little pathetic when I first started coming up here to visit Mrs. Toad.  I guess a lot of people go down South, either don’t like it very much or don’t achieve what they wanted to achieve, and end up coming back feeling a little as if they have failed and end up resenting London for it.

Personally, I love Edinburgh, and I could well see why anyone would choose to live here over London, but the two places are so different I always found the competitive comparisons a little pointless. I definitely think you need a certain mentality to enjoy a place as crowded, as busy and as relentless as London, but I always found it pretty easy to ignore the hurly-burly and find my own peace and quiet even in such a crowded city.

By coincidence, one of the friends I was supposed to meet yesterday couldn’t make it, so I had four or five hours to myself, just wandering around on a gloriously sunny day and exploring some of my old haunts.

I used to get quite a lot of time to myself when I lived down there as well, because when Mrs. Toad and I were courting she lived up in Edinburgh, so we only saw one another every other weekend.  That meant that every second weekend I didn’t really have that much to do, and I would often walk along the South Bank, dodge the hordes around the wheel and the galleries, and just enjoy watching the river.

I lived on the Thames at the time, on a canal boat moored at Nine Elms Pier, so the river was a huge part of my relationship with the city.  Yesterday, with nothing much on, I wandered back down to the pier to see what had changed and watch the new residents pottering about on their boats the way we did when we lived there.

It was odd looking at the boat I used to own, and the rather drastic modifications which have been made since, as well as the Charles William, another boat I lived on for a bit, but with new owners eyeing me rather distrustfully as I stood up on the riverside walkway and just absorbed the sights of the pier and the river for a while.  Mrs. Toad and I built our relationship while I was living on that boat, and we already knew we were in it for keeps even at that early stage, so it was both strange and nice to see it again.

The pace of development around there was a bit shocking though, with both the New Covent Garden Market and the industrial estate the pier backed onto both being razed to the ground to make way for massive, ugly glass behemoths full of over-priced flats.

So after that I decided to wander along the river towards the Southbank Centre where I was meeting another pal later.  Along the way I stopped for an hour at one of the tapas places under the railway arches at Vauxhall – a place I love because of their bloody brilliant octopus in white wine, with paprika and rock salt.  Vauxhall is a funny place actually, with huge Portuguese and gay populations, as well as the MI5 building just by the bridge, which makes for an odd mix of people at the various cafes under the arches.

After that I completed my wander along the river at a leisurely pace.  A very leisurely pace. Particularly when I have time on my hands I must have just about the slowest amble of pretty much anyone I know, and that’s even more obvious on the South bank of the Thames around rush hour, with commuters barging along, tourists scuttling about, an infestation of joggers desperately trying to quash their self-loathing for a couple of hours, and cyclists all over the bloody place.

It can be fun to be the only person not in any kind of a hurry in the midst of busy people though; a sort of smug serenity can descend over you, which I kind of like.  Particularly when I am sat at my desk, I am so bombarded with emails and obligations that any amount of time wasted sitting out in the garden in the sun comes laced with guilt, but on this occasion I genuinely had no need to make excuses – I had hours to kill and no way to make them productive, so I was able to truly enjoy purposelessness for the first time in ages.

And that brings me onto the one thing I always enjoyed the most about London: it’s just so fucking big.  I have always lived in cities, so for all I enjoy the countryside a great deal, I am not someone who yearns to get away from the masses. In fact just the opposite: I tend to feel most comfortable with big, sprawling, messy city life.

The reason for this is related to how peaceful my day was yesterday: in cities that big no-one knows who you are, and no-one cares at all.  There’s an odd kind of privacy in that.  If anything makes me feel overwhelmed by modern life it is not all the shit happening everywhere, it’s the constant awareness of the needs and requirements of other people, and that constantly present sense of obligation in the back of your mind.

In London, however, where the antithesis of the Cheers theme song is true and nobody knows your name, I tend to find it easy enough to find isolation and peace, even amongst millions of people. And it is a wonderful treat, to be able to sit somewhere on a bench for an hour, watch the river go by and do not one single thing.  Nothing.  No phone shit because my battery was dying and I needed it to meet up with friends later, no checking emails, not even any sense of skiving because I couldn’t have done any work if I’d wanted to.  Just a few hours of peace, watching the sun go down over the Thames, and total and utter anonymity.

With that kind of peace and quiet your mind wanders, and I found myself remembering all the wonderful times Mrs. Toad and I had spent in the city, walking back along the river from Borough Market to cook food together, and perhaps even more lovely was this: I was reminded of the inbetween weekends, when we didn’t see each other, and I would often just walk along the banks of the river by myself and sit quietly, enjoying that incredible feeling you get when even a few dates into a relationship you know with absolute certainty that you have found the person you want to spend the rest of your life with.

Mrs. Toad was actually in America on business while I was down in London, and we may have been apart again, but it was actually quite a romantic couple of days.  In a slightly strange way.

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That Ghost – Rosalind EP

 Sometimes you realise you’ve been writing about bands for years, and it slowly dawns on you that you might actually be the only one.  A quick search on The Hype Machine shows that’s not really true, but despite the fact that they’ve been around for a few years now, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything you might describe as buzz surrounding That Ghost.

Unless I am completely wrong about that, which is entirely possible, it seems a little odd, if you ask me.  They do lo-fi, they write pop songs, and these two things are perfectly in tune with the zeitgeist, so I would have expected there to be a little more widespread chatter about them.

Certainly Morning Now, the lead song from their new EP, Rosalind, is an absolutely corking tune, which very few bands I know could better.  It’s a slow, wistful, lovely song, which makes you sway, and whose lovely delivery makes your heart ache just a little bit.  And it may be downbeat, but the constant, gentle tash-tash-tash of cymbals keeps it from sounding maudlin or self-pitying.

Other songs on the EP tend to have a less rich sound, more rattle to both the percussion and the guitar, and just generally to sound a little more distant. On the subject of the percussion, actually, most of these tracks have something interesting going on in that area, whether it’s the industrial clank at the end of Snowrabbit, or the hiccups of wooden clacks in The Birth of My Son.

The slow pace and slightly distant vocal delivery seem to be the dominant features of this record, to the extent that when the pace picks up a little, such as on Too Far to Walk I think something a little more immediate would have been better.  Personally, whilst the thin, echoey vocal sounds good with the slower songs, bringing a certain sense of alienation with it, I don’t think it works so well with the faster stuff.

For those songs, the expression feels more forceful, more decisive somehow, but the vocal still maintains that slightly hesitant distance, which doesn’t really seem to fit.  Nevertheless, that minor nit-pick aside, this is another strong EP from a band I really am surprised are not more widely known.

That Ghost – Morning Now

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Damon Moon & the Whispering Drifters – Lungs, Dirt & Dreams

 Lungs, Dirt and Dreams is pretty well described by its title actually, and has a kind of thunderously epic quality which constantly kicks back against the kind of defeatism this kind of music tends to evoke.

You could easily compare a lot of this to Calexico, I suppose, albeit without the horns and the mariachi influences.  I suppose this is part of the reason the term ‘Americana’ was invented.  There’s a lot of the character of old American music in here, but it’s all pretty nonspecific, so I wouldn’t exactly call this country rock exactly, although there are vague elements of country in it from time to time.

The other reason for ill-defined terms like Americana, I suppose, is that this music is very evocative, not only of American landscape, but a fairly uniquely American style of storytelling, which manages to meld a grandiose canvas with paralysing internal detail, almost as if the vastness of the country induces its own kind of stifling inability to attack what is being done to you by the world, by quashing any kind of belief that you can ever succeed.

This album feels very like one of these stories, with cacophonous, slightly proggy songs crashing their way through guitar solos and the bashing of drums, and creating the impression that they go on forever.  These flaring bouts of fury are interspersed with the more quietly desperate moments, as if the protagonist of of the kind of stories I have mentioned is veering from raging against their fate to bitterly buckling to it.

By the time the one song on the album which is actually quite long, closer We Make Our Own Traditions, comes around, with its more comforting, contented atmosphere, you genuinely feel like you’ve been through the mill with this album, as if you have fought the fight yourself and are only now reaching the end of the story, and in doing so finding a place where you can accept your fate rather than railing against it with resentful futility.

As with the songs, the album itself feels like a bit of an epic, but it’s only forty minutes long.  You have to take your hat off to a band who can create that illusion of scale, and who can make you feel like the emotional journey of the songs is your own journey.  Because the music inhabits relatively familiar territory for me, I didn’t realise for a while quite how much I like this album, but it’s really good and I strongly recommend you give it a try.

Damon Moon & the Whispering Drifters – Lungs, Dirt & Dreams

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Damon Moon & the Whispering Drifters – Loose Ends

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Brice Woodall – Some Odd Years

 This is rather lovely. It’s a four-song EP which can be purchased on Bandcamp here, either as a cassette or as a name-your-price download, and I have been very much enjoying it over the last few weeks.

The music is that blend of acoustic instruments and low-key electronic beats which tends to be tagged as folktronica. It’s an annoying label, but I suppose it’s appropriate enough, and I’m not sure I can really think of a better one.

To be more precise, this music is a woozy concoction, with lovely, flighty vocals offset by fairly minimal, dreamy and wonderfully atmospheric instrumentation.

I suppose you could pick out elements of the Magnetic Fields here and there, particular when the beats are at their thinnest and most rattly.  The band will probably hate me for the comparison, but you can conjure roughly what to expect by taking the Postal Service’s template, thinning it right down and instead of pushing for the lush and the radio-friendly, aiming for something more plaintive and lost, perhaps a little closer to the more downbeat moments of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone.

The key difference between Brice Woodall and the bands I’ve just mentioned, however, is in the nature of the beat.  Where the other bands are insistent and purposeful, this stuff feels a little more like it’s sinking into the mist, and even the gorgeous guitar jangle on Even the Mice and Snakes can’t lift the song from the quicksand of the insistent pulse in the background.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that the whole EP feels rather like it is losing a battle with its own inner despondency, and drifting slowly into defeated apathy, this is really rather lovely. Maybe it’s the way the vocal feels like it alone is not giving up that does it, but in amongst all the excuses to drift into narcosis that this EP gives us, Some Odd Years feels like it has somehow managed to resist its own temptation.

Brice Woodall – Fables

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Jad Fair + Hifiklub + kptmichigan – Birdhouse

 Blimey this is odd.  Odd and gorgeous, but really still very odd indeed.

It’s gorgeous in two ways.  Firstly, the image on your right is a picture of the actual vinyl: a single-sided record, with a red design (contrary to the picture) screen-printed on one side of it.  They are only making a couple of hundred of these, so I recommend you get shifting and buy one here.

Secondly, the music might be just a little demented, but it’s still really good. I am always a little wary of kidding myself that I like weird shit as a form of self-congratulation – ‘ooh, I must have refined taste, look at all this left-field stuff I like!’ – but in this case I am pretty sure I just plain like this.

And that’s despite Jad Fair squealing and yelping his way through the record, whilst the musicians of Hifiklub and kptmichigan try and keep up.  Creating a sound to sit comfortably with this kind of demented burbling must have been a bit of a bloody challenge, but they’ve done a pretty bloody good job of it, I think.

Whilst embracing the fundamental uneasiness of the songs, they still manage to drag the record back to somewhere more comfortable just often enough to make sure that listening to this is a pleasure.  Birdhouse is still like a cross between a surreal nightmare and twisted fairy story mind you, and I know those comparisons are cliched, but the glutinous quality of some parts, married with the twisting discomfort of others means I think it’s probably the best way to describe it nonetheless.

Quite where the pleasure in the listening actually comes from I couldn’t tell you, however.  What I do know is that despite all I’ve just said, I still actively enjoy listening to this record, and in amongst all the unease there are redeeming washes of comfort.  Bugger me it’s odd though!

Jad Fair + Hifiklub + kptmichigan – Let’s Win

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Live in Edinburgh This Week – 26th March 2012

 Well well well, isn’t it bloody gorgeous out. So needless to say, I am hopping on a train down to London instead of getting straight out into the back garden to enjoy the sun. People really can be idiots, can’t they. People like, er, me.

There’s a near-complete dearth of gig that you would expect me to be recommending this week – not a distortion pedal in sight, in fact – so I reckon I should embrace the fact that some of Edinburgh’s most interesting promoters have quite a lot going on, and it would be the perfect chance to step out of the same old routine and go and see something different.

Tuesday 27th March: The Doozer, Long Distance Runner & Shareholder at the Banshee Labyrinth.

The Doozer have been described this way: “The lazy man’s way to review it [would be] to call it a bridge between Syd B and Chris Knox, carrying all the weird damage and superb left field pop motion that implies” by Byron Coley in the Bull Tongue Top Ten of 2010, and as I am not so much a lazy man as an ignorant one I am going to have to go with that.  The two support bands are apparently mysterious Edinburgh supergroups, composed of various members of the city’s underground bands.  Looks intriguing.  And good.

Wednesday 28th March: As Old as My Tongue – the Myth and life of Bi Kidude at the Third Door.

Bi Kidude is apparently a Swahili musician who, as well as having a long a distinguished musical career, has continually attracted controversy due to her less than acquiescent attitude to a woman’s role in Muslim society.  This is actually a film event, with a discussion with the director afterwards, and whilst I know nothing about Kidude herself I have to say it sounds rather fascinating.

Friday 30th March: Neu! Reekie! #15 at the Scottish Book Trust.

Neu Reekie is a night which amalgamates animation, music, spoken word, poetry and, I would imagine, pretty much any other kind of art form it can get its hands on.  This is the kind of night I’ve been looking for for a long time actually, so I think this Friday, especially given the excellent Withered Hand and Ryan Van Winkel are performing, might be the time to pop along.

Saturday 31st March: Khyam Allami at the Pleasance Theatre.

This is a collaboration between Powan Presents and the Edinburgh University Middle Eastern Society, and brings world-famous Oud player Khyam Allami to Edinburgh. Tickets can be purchased here.

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Toadcast #219 – The Procast

The Procast is so called because this week has been an awfy professional one.  The third Meursault album is approaching, and because there are publishers, managers, bookers and all sorts involved in this one we had to have a Serious Meeting about it and make sure the planning was all being done properly.

We did all the grown-up stuff like minute the meeting, assign people deliverables and all sorts of stuff.  It was the closest to being back at my old job that I have experienced since I left, in all honesty – lists, management, timescales, budget discussions and all sorts.

That sounds dismal, I know, but it was quite fun actually.  I know I like releasing under the radar, awkward releases, but at the same time, if a band starts doing well and achieving things I don’t want them to have to necessarily leave our label in order to do so, and it’s quite satisfying (and actually quite interesting too) to be involved in a project on a slightly larger scale to usual.

Direct download: Toadcast #219 – The Procast
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01. John Knox Sex Club – Above Us the Waves (00.17)
02. Interpol – Obstacle #1 (10.44)
03. Elbow – Any Day Now (15.07)
04. Hiva Oa – Badger (26.47)
05. The Soft Walls – Black Cat (34.00)
06. King of Prussia – Your Graduating Hours (38.11)
07. British Sea Power – Oh Larsen B (45.07)
08. iLiKETRAiNS – The Beeching Report (50.40)
09. Unknown Artist – Bird Cage (56.09)
10. eagleowl – Into the Fold (62.11)

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Friday is More or Less Back on the Rails

 So, after the giddy nonsense of SXSW and then returning to the rather intense preparations for the third Meursault album, I managed to write a couple of posts last night, I have a gig on Saturday, and things seem more or less back to normal.

In random label news we have now – with the exception of a few copies left with our distributors, so you might be able to request one at your local record shop – sold out of the Rob St. John vinyl, but to balance this the CDs have arrived, and I’ll get those up for sale on the site asap.

In terms of the Meursault album, for those of you who care about the inner machinations of a record label, we’ve got two weeks to get everything locked down, including artwork, PR company, radio pluggers, manufacturing, launch night and all sorts of other shit, and once that’s done we are absolutely committed to a release date, there’s no turning back, we’ve turned off our targeting computer and some sanctimonious old man is whispering ‘Use the Force, Luke’ in our ears all the way to mid-July. Gulp!

Anyhow, all that stuff is being forgotten about until Monday (well, sort of – there’s our gig on Saturday at Henry’s, the podcast and some recording to do this weekend) and tonight I am going to the Fresh Air Festival at the Teviot to see some bands and drink some beers. So if I don’t see you out on the lash tonight, then I might see you at Henry’s tomorrow.

So, before pub o’clock at about five – actually, that reminds me, anyone fancy a pint this evening? – I am going to be addressing our recent sales and getting some new stuff up on the label site and generally scratching ma baws futtering about on the internet.  Yep, we’re a serious operation here at Song, by Toad. Join me!

1. What’s the first car you remember being in?
2. Worst attempt at an accent you remember hearing?
3. It’s time for a website redesign for Song, by Toad.  Are there any websites you’ve seen recently which deliver a lot of different information really well?
4. When should I give up on being productive and have my first pint of the day?
5. Favourite cocktail.

Five Jacques Brel covers for you today:

Dusty Springfield – If You Go Away

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David Bowie – Amsterdam

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The Divine Comedy – Jackie

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Jimmie Rogers – The Lovers

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Ann Watts – Amsterdam

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Water Lives…

The PR blurb for this states the following: “BioFresh is a European Union project which is putting together the scattered pieces of information about life in our rivers and lakes, to better understand, manage and protect our freshwaters for generations to come.”

In essence, that’s all you need to know, I suppose.  This is a music blog, so I guess some of you will find this a compelling reason to investigate further and some will not. I hope you do though, because it looks like a very interesting project.

Rob St. John and FOUND‘s Tommy Perman were part of the team which put together the video above, however, and it’s so nice that I really did have to post it.  Click through to either the Vimeo page for the video itself or to the homepage of BioFresh if you want to find out a bit more.  And if you don’t then just admire the animation, the wonderful delivery of the poetry and the lovely grumble of the music in the video.

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